With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

School Lunches for Kids Around the World: Hey, Why Not?

In his first major foreign policy address in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for "a declared total war.. upon the brute forces of poverty and need." Eisenhower stated, "The peace we seek…can be fortified, not by weapons of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool, by meat and by timber and by rice."

Today, the idea of an all-out war on global poverty needs to be an integral part of U.S. policy in our effort to seek peace in the 21st century. Defeating poverty has to begin by bringing hope and opportunity to children in impoverished countries. One way is to provide school lunches to these children to bolster their health and education. Many children in poorer countries struggle to receive one meal a day. School lunches can be a life-changing event for these youth.

During the Eisenhower administration the U.S. supported school lunch programs in Japan and Italy. These programs were part of a larger Food for Peace initiative which sent U.S. agricultural surplus abroad to help those in need. Eisenhower noted in 1959 that "Food can be a powerful instrument for all the free world in building a durable peace."

In 1956, the American ambassador to Italy, Clare Boothe Luce, described U.S. sponsored school lunch programs as "bringing home American generosity to about a million children throughout Italy." According to Luce, these programs were part of a U.S. policy that helped "sustain the confidence of Italians in America's friendship and world leadership."

Former Senator and Food for Peace director George McGovern wrote in 1964 that U.S. sponsored school lunch programs in Japan "added inches and pounds to the average size of Japanese youth." McGovern added that "Japanese school officials have been forced to install larger desks because the children of this generation are larger than their mothers and fathers."

During the Kennedy administration Food for Peace and school lunch programs were greatly expanded to help millions of children in nations such as Brazil, Peru, India and South Korea. It should be noted that India and Japan currently help fund food relief efforts in Afghanistan, including school lunch programs for Afghan children.

Today, the McGovern-Dole Global School Feeding Program is the U.S. mechanism for providing school lunches abroad. This program, named after former senators George McGovern and Robert Dole, provides school meals to children in impoverished countries. Organizations such as the UN World Food Programme, World Vision, CARE and Food for the Poor carry out the school lunch distribution via McGovern-Dole funding.

These school lunches not only improve a child's nutrition and learning ability, they also provide the parents with incentive to send their kids to school. Take-home rations are also included in some of these school lunch programs. Combining food with education promotes healthier children in these developing countries.

The McGovern-Dole program currently reaches about 3 million children in Kenya, Pakistan, Guatemala, Afghanistan and other nations. But worldwide nearly 110 million school-age children suffer from hunger.

This year the Congress will decide whether to reauthorize and expand McGovern-Dole. They would be wise to do so. There is no greater act of public diplomacy the U.S. can undertake than to help feed and educate children abroad.

An expanded McGovern-Dole legislation could help the UN World Food Programme provide more school lunches to children in Southern Sudan, a region recovering after decades of Civil War.

What about the children of Iraqi refugees living abroad in Egypt, Syria and Jordan? School lunch programs, complete with take-home rations, would help these refugee families. Such acts also benefit America's image abroad, which has suffered since the Iraq invasion.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, school lunch programs nourish children, keep them in school and away from potential terrorist recruiters.

School lunch programs are the investment in the future of children across the globe. This same investment will promote peace and progress in the developing world. Expanding the McGovern-Dole Global School Feeding program is one critical step in the war against hunger and poverty worldwide.